The party members all have some difficulty of getting up before 6.00am but know that they only have this day to try and located Mr. Traske before darkness will set in for 36 hours.
After taking a quick shower, then head to the ranch house. Mrs. Traske was obviously up a while ago as she has prepared a hearty breakfast for everyone. From the bags under her eyes, Taeva guesses that her mother didn’t get any sleep at all last night.
“So what do we reckon then, gang?” Max asks. “What’s the plan for today?”
“Does the ranch have any spare grav belts?” asks Arvor. “We can set up a search chain, string out our vehicles in a sweep at spotting distance, and cover the maximum ground as we search. I take it from Hyrm he was headed West towards the mountains? Are there any structures, caves, buildings or ranches out that way within a couple 100 km? Do we have any local maps?” he adds.
“I’m afraid we don’t have any more grav belts,” Hyrm replies. “We had to sell the others to raise the cash to buy a new generator.”
“Yes, he was headed west when I saw him take off, but he could have soon changed and gone in a different direction soon after. I didn’t watch him for too long.”
“Most of the Range has not been properly explored,” he continues. “There’s satellite imagery of it, of course, but there’s never really been any need for anyone to map it all. The Range covers 150,000 square kilometers and it’s not like all of the useful land on Tarsus is being exploited yet, so no one bothers much with it.”
“The nearest ranch is 100km northeast of here, in the foothills of the Range on the edge of the Plain.”
“So all we have are two air/rafts, and a rough direction.” Arvor replies. "I guess there is nothing for it but to head out West and search.
Grim checks his ammo supply, then tests his comms and LI and IR goggles.
“Ready Chief. Got the best satellite maps available loaded into my datapad. I can call them up on my DD/R to help us scan the area as we fly over. Just in case, I also went lowtech,” says Grim, flashing the old school compass and notepad he picked up at the spaceport.
He then does a doublecheck on his weather gear and rations.
Jie sees Grim doing a pre-deployment check and does the same. Also, she ensures her and Williams’ Medic Kits are in order. Had she have been more tactful, she would have done this away from Taeva, but alas Jie’s preperations of the Med Kit is a reminder that Taeva’s father has been missing for a long time and could well be injured…or worse.
Taeva has a talk with Hyrm before they leave; he may have at least some knowledge of the mountains and ranch perimeter in that direction.
“Have there been any specific problems in that area?” she asks him.
Hyrm shakes his head:
“Nothing really came from the direction of the Range that I can remember,” he says. “I don’t know why he headed off in that direction. Can’t say that any of us really ventured too far into the Range before – no reason to go past the first ridge. There’s a pretty nice view from there. After that there’s really nothing much to see.”
The party members head for the two air/rafts. Billy-Bob does the driving this time as he tells Max that he will need to fly on manual to keep as close to the ground as possible, and that’s a little advanced for a beginner like him. Max agrees, understanding that they will need as many eyes scanning the ground as possible.
The two drivers keep the air/rafts 200m apart and then get into a pattern of sweeping the area methodically, starting with the area right next to the range and the getting further and further away. It’s pretty slow going to be so thorough though as the air/rafts keep to 50kmh so that the searchers don’t accidentally miss something.
By lunchtime, they are around 20km from the ranch. They stop to have a quick bite to eat before continuing through the afternoon. As they get further and further from the ranch, it takes them longer and longer to make each sweep before they start scanning another 500km further on.
“It’s like lookin’ for a bleedin’ needle in an ’aystack,” Max says exasperatedly. “An ‘aystack which we ain’t even sure ‘as a needle in it in the first place. We’ve been searchin’ nearly the ‘ole day an we still ain’t covered much more than about 15 minutes’ flyin’ time straight from the ranch. This is gonna take forever.”
“We haven’t got forever,” Taeava says sadly looking at the sun starting to disappear over the horizon. “Just a few more hours and that will be it for two days. We won’t find anything in the dark, that’s for sure.”
The party members keep on searching as the sun gets lower and lower in the sky until the ground beneath them is just a mass of long shadows. Reluctantly they realize that they can’t continue any further as they would miss anything they passed over. The two drivers turn the air/rafts around and head straight back to the ranch. They arrive just 15 minutes later as they take the rafts up to top speed.
Shania and Hrym are waiting for the party members as they disembark from the air/rafts. They don’t need to ask how it went – the party members’ long faces are enough to tell them the bad news.
Everyone heads into the lounge and crowds around the roaring log fire in the grate to bring back some warmth to their cold bodies, no one speaking for a while.
“There’s got to be a better way of doin’ this,” says Max.
With there being no chance of resuming the physical search for 36 hours until light returns, the party members start to discuss other methods of determining what might have happened, most notably seeing what additional information they can obtain through searching computer databases. William also suggests speaking to the neighbours to see if they can shed any light onto the situation.
“Nearest neighbour is the Kennedy ranch 100km northeast in the foothills of the Lersion Range,” Hyrm says. “There’s nothing much north and west of here – the swamps can flood for kilometres at certain times of the year and no one is allowed to build their ranches anywhere other than the edges of the range so as not to disrupt their migration patterns.”
Shania prepares dinner as the party members toss options to one another. Due to the darkness the following day, there is no great hurry to try and resolve matters this evening and so everyone has another early night after their early start in the day.